The Terminal Collection: The Doubleday Atrocity Exhibition

Here it is... the heart of my JGB collection.

This edition was destroyed by the publisher before distribution, scheduled for June 12, 1970, so it's difficult to tell how many escaped the pulper. Even the super-informed Lloyd Currey doesn't know how many are really out there... but he thinks there's probably less than 10... and my sources have located at least five. My copy is further distinguished by being signed by both Ballard and the artist, Michael Foreman... Foreman, of course, is JGB's buddy and was the art director of Ambit magazine. His illustrations are bang-on late 1960s line art -- check the hat tips to Peter Max, Yellow Submarine, Eye Magazine, Laugh-In, etc.

In 1990 JGB gave the following commentary to RE/Search publications:

Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan prompted Doubleday in 1970 to pulp its first American edition of The Atrocity Exhibition. Ronald Reagan's presidency remained a complete mystery to most Europeans, though I noticed that Americans took him far more easily in their stride. But the amiable old duffer who occupied the White House was a very different person from the often sinister figure I described in 1967, when the present piece was first published. The then-novelty of a Hollywood film star entering politics and becoming governor of California gave Reagan considerable air time on British TV. Watching his right-wing speeches, in which he castigated in sneering tones the profligate, welfare-spending, bureaucrat-infested state government, I saw a more crude and ambitious figure, far closer to the brutal crime boss he played in the 1964 movie, The Killers, his last Hollywood role. In his commercials Reagan used the smooth, teleprompter-perfect tones of the TV auto-salesman to project a political message that was absolutely the reverse of bland and reassuring. A complete discontinuity existed between Reagan's manner and body language, on the one hand, and his scarily simplistic far-right message on the other. Above all, it struck me that Reagan was the first politician to exploit the fact that his TV audience would not be listening too closely, if at all, to what he was saying, and indeed might well assume from his manner and presentation that he was saying the exact opposite of the words actually emerging from his mouth. Though the man himself mellowed, his later presidency seems to have run the same formula."

In 2001 I wrote to JGB, asking him about the provenance of my copy, as it was signed by both JGB and the illustrator, Michael Foreman. I was delighted to receive the following reply, written on two french postcards JGB had stuffed into an envelope.

"Dear Mr McGrath, Many thanks for your kind interest in my writing, and for sending me the cd of radio plays -- I look forward to hearing them (when I can beg, borrow or steal a cd player -- I'm fairly certain my girl-friend has one). As for Atrocity Ex, yes there are very few of these around -- I suspect that this is one which Mike Foreman and I signed separately, in fairly recent years -- I remember signing one or two copies that somehow escaped the Doubleday thought police. Yes, I was hoping to finish a novel in time for 2002 publication, but I've been ill over the past 6 months (a rogue virus, perhaps, dormant since childhood) and haven't been able to get down to work. But I'm much better now.
Best of luck, JG Ballard"

In April, 2007, I received this info from Gerry Kleier, a JGB collector and bookstore owner in Australia: "I do have the Doubleday AE. I had two copies at one time, even! One I bought over the counter when I worked at a Berkeley used book store. The other I acquired in a trade. One copy I traded to Andy Richards (Cold Tonnage Books) many years back and I think he sold it through Lloyd Currey. It was a copy with about 12 blank pages (a printing error) so it is pretty distinctive. It might be the copy you have. [It isn't] Sci Fi Editor David Hartwell had a copy for many years - it might be the 'Ashmead' copy. I think he sold it through Lloyd too. I can't recall for certain. I think the San Fran copy is still for sale on ABE... The copy I traded for came from the Strand Bookstore in NYC. The person who bought it (not the person I traded with) said it had been in a stack of "5 or 6 copies" on a remainder table. The person I bought a copy from did not remember where he got the book from - he had lived in NYC though. The date of acquisition of the 1st copy is unremembered by me, but presumably the early 1970s."

When was this edition scheduled to go to press? That's a question which has long interested Dave Pringle, who has found the answer, thanks to the detective work of University of Minnesota Librarian Denny Lein, who writes: "I checked the quarterly announcements issues of Publishers Weekly for the 1970 spring and summer book trade, and found on page 10 of the 27 April 1970 issue a two-page ad, "News From Doubleday," listing their forthcoming May-August titles. Under the general fiction list (e.g. not the science fiction list) I found: Ballard, J.G. The Atrocity Exhibition. Illustrated by Michael Foreman. June 12. $4.95.

As Dave Pringle further points out, this edition would have preceeded the Jonathan Cape UK edition by about a month.

Here's Lloyd Currey's technical description of the book:

"Ballard, J[ames] G[raham]. THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1970. Octavo, cloth. First U.S. edition. Signed by Ballard and artist Michael Foreman. Printed, but not published by Doubleday. Save for a handful of early review and file copies the entire edition was suppressed and destroyed. Collects some of the most influential SF short stories published during the 1960s. This edition included "The New Science Fiction," a transcript of a conversation between Ballard and George MacBeth and variant readings in short story texts not printed in the earlier British edition or the later Grove Press edition (retitled Love and Napalm: Export U.S.A.). Anatomy of Wonder (1995) 4-24. Survey of Science Fiction Literature III, pp. 1274-77. Old inked price at upper right corner of front free endpaper, else a fine copy in near fine dust jacket with light shelf wear at head and tail of spine panel and corners. The rarest modern science fiction book."

Below are the 13 illustrations Foreman did for this edition:

Atrocity Exhibition Film Now Available On PAL-Format DVD

The Atrocity Exhibition is now out on DVD. In 2001 Jonathan Weiss finished his first feature film based on this JG Ballard story. This adaptation is authorised by Ballard himself, and Ballard himself provided audio commentary for this DVD. Check it out at Reel23.